Rock on, holiday travelers

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The temperature was 50 degrees and falling fast last week when Flight 5270 finally landed, depositing me and a dozen other passengers on a tarmac at Charlotte International. Shifting the weight of my bag to a different shoulder, I trudged up the steps to head for Gate 15. Wouldn’t you know it? Other end of the building.

Ten minutes later and my destination nowhere in sight, I decided to jump from a moving sidewalk and reexamine my boarding pass. That’s when I noticed them – in the corner, by the windows, along the corridor fronting Starbucks. There must have been at least a hundred.

What’s going on, I wondered. I mean, I’m a Southern girl. I know about rocking chairs. I have two on my front porch. (Well, make that almost two. There was this dog, and she liked to chew wood . . .) Anyway, the point is, why rockers there, in an airport?

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I became fascinated by the strange contrast: a host of travelers — wearing everything from Jewish head coverings to flannel pajamas — calmly rocking, rocking, rocking in the midst of non-stop airport frenzy. I eventually questioned my husband about the scene.

“Must have something to do with Billy Graham,” he decided, noting that Graham is from North Carolina and is often depicted in a rocking chair. I wasn’t so sure.

Later, after a long trek to Gate E19 (which I’m not convinced was still in Charlotte), I purchased something called a veggie tomazzo and began looking for a place to eat it. I squeezed onto a bench between a lady doing needlework and a family speaking Pakistani. (Well, they called it something else, but they were from Pakistan.) The people-watching was prime, but I had some research to do. I just had to know more about those rockers.

Soon I was surfing photos of travelers rocking at Reagan National in D.C., Port of Seattle and Lambert-St. Louis. There were other sites featuring flyers sitting stylish in Sacramento’s sleek teak models and Boston’s version, decorated by local artists. Businessmen and grandmas alike rocked recycled plastic in Houston.

Eventually I learned that more than 40 airports around the country provide rockers in their waiting areas, with most mimicking the Kennedy Rocker, a tall-backed, slatted design said to have soothed the late president’s back pain.

And it turns out the trend actually started right there where I had landed, at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Haley Gentry, an official at Charlotte Douglas, told one reporter it all began when the airport had a temporary photography exhibit called “Porch Sitting” in 1997. The display included large photos of front porches, and several real rocking chairs were added as a special touch. When the time came to remove the exhibit (well, really its rockers), travelers complained. Thus the chairs became a permanent fixture, and a trend was born.

Today frequent flyers say the chairs provide peace in a place where lost baggage and missed flights often raise blood pressure. Rhythmic rocking, some believe, can bring it down.

I noticed something about travelers who scored the prize seats, though. Every one of the occupants I observed — and I mean every one of them — had their eyes focused on an iPad, iPhone or iSomething. So from what I could tell, rote rocking doesn’t necessarily equal total relaxation.

But in all fairness I have to admit today’s travelers aren’t the first to try multitask rocking. Where I come from, pea-shellers have been doing it forever.

And tomorrow, whether it’s on a front porch at home or in an airport a thousand miles away, I hope we’ll all get a chance to sit a spell and try another form of rocker multitasking — blessing counting. So wherever you are, rock on — and have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at